On the phones we hear the pain many accommodation owners feel when they get the monthly commission bill from their OTAs. Particularly annoying is finding repeat or regular customers who somehow end up booking through an OTA rather than directly. Many of you are looking for tools to help fight back against rising costs from the Online Travel Agents. One excellent way to do this is by using promotional codes.
A promo code is a private special offer that gives customers a discount when they book online directly with you. Essentially you give them a small discount making it cheaper to book directly, they save and you reduce your commission bill with more direct bookings. They simply type a promo code into your online booking page and it gives them a special direct discount.
The first step is to think about how much of an incentive you want to give to direct bookers. Perhaps your OTA commission is 15% and you want to give your customers 10% off thus saving you 5%. In the example we give the hotel offers a ten percent discount but you decide the amount yourself (you set it and you can easily change it).
Next you create a “Promo Code” in your freetobook account. Once you have your promo code setup (eg. DIRECT10) you now need to let your customers know about it, ensuring they know that booking directly on your website will save them money. The simple message is “Book direct and save” but you do have to promote it. Here are some clever ideas to help.
At Guest Checkout – Hand your guest a little business card with your promo code on it. This lets them know they are special and that they will always get a better deal booking directly with you.
At reception – Put up a little plaque or sign stating that you always guarantee the best rate when guests book direct and that some guests might get a special discount when they book again. Give them the promo code so they can use it to claim their discount when booking direct.
On your email signature – When you email guests about coming back to stay with you mention your promo code so they can get their special private deal. Again this reinforces the book direct message in a place where they might be considering making a booking with you.
We all like to feel special, using promo codes is a great way to show guests that you value their business and want them to come back and stay. Its a powerful message, book direct and save… here is a little exclusive discount because we value your custom. You want them to come back and/or tell family and friends about the special deal they can have by booking with you directly next time – promo codes do that for you.
The video below shows how the promo codes work, all you need to do is login to your freetobook account select the tab “Specials” and “Promo Codes” on the orange bar. To get a little further information see the promo codes section on our website.
How much more of the “booking cake” can the OTAs (Online Travel Agents) take and how much bigger is the online booking sphere getting? They’re both interesting questions we continue to ask ourselves with a view to helping independent properties generate more direct bookings and reduce commission bills.
There is now evidence that the growth in new online customers is starting to flatten and mature. The OTAs are giant corporations that require continual growth to fire their share price. With fewer new online customers to sell to, the OTAs are looking for ways to keep their growth on target and some have been launching products to control your direct bookings. This strategy of getting income from your direct bookings doesn’t require them to find any new customers yet helps them expand their income. When they manage your direct bookings you are effectively providing them with an opportunity to acquire new customers, your direct customers.
We have also seen some OTAs removing the customer’s direct email address when the booking has originated on their site. In the past they shared these details freely with the property owners but now you need to make the effort to obtain the customer’s contact details. This will lead to less communication between you and the customer, reducing your ability to make direct marketing offers and run loyalty promotions. The knock-on effect is to shift more bookings into commissionable income and reduce direct bookings. Make sure you get contact details of all your guests.
How do the OTAs control so much of the online business? Well, they spend billions on online marketing to get customers to book on their website. Along with the expensive adverts they quite often advertise on the search engines under cheaper terms like your property name. When they advertise under your name customers looking for your property will see them first at the top of the Google page. You will also probably see them paying for advertising on other high traffic websites e.g. your TripAdvisor page.
So what can you do about it ? Take your direct bookings very seriously, be under no illusions that you are in competition for your own direct bookings. You need to stop thinking that the property down the road is your main competition. In the online world your biggest competitor is most likely to be the OTA that provides you with the most bookings. If a potential customer has a better website experience on an OTA’s website then that’s where they’ll book.
Make sure you have invested in a great website, lots of fantastic images (critical), a great design and good original copy. There is nothing new there but independent businesses are all too often reticent to invest in their marketing, seeing it purely as a cost. Have you ever wondered why the OTAs insist on you uploading so many great images? They know customers are more likely to book with them if they have great images of your property.
A fantastic image led website will generate more direct bookings and save commission. Making sure your website is the best it can be will give you an edge when competing for direct bookings. Some of the big hotel chains even keep their best images for their own website so that they have better visual content for direct customers.
It’s a fact that big OTAs have a global sales coverage that independent accommodation owners can’t match. Learn from the way the big hotel chains do it, they use the OTAs for customer acquisition in areas they cannot reach. Use the OTAs to get the bookings in and convert the customers to future loyal direct bookers. Not all OTAs are the same, some customers have loyalty to a specific OTA that they use most of the time. If you rely on just one OTA for too large a percentage of your bookings then you should probably diversify the source of your OTA business. Work with the biggest OTAs but not just one of them. This gives you more online exposure, access to more customers, reduces your reliance on a specific channel and gives you a better mix of customers. It’s also a lot easier to bargain with the OTAs if you have more than one.
Co-operation between nearby properties will help grow direct bookings for all. When it comes to getting more direct bookings your main competitor is your OTA. If properties switched from competing with each other to cooperating there would be a mutual benefit for all. Taking it to another level some accommodation owners have enjoyed significant success by cooperating and creating bookable websites featuring their members, examples include Fort William and St Ives in the UK (see freetobook together).
The benefits of more direct bookings are clear, the simplest calculation is the commission. By cutting out the middleman you save precious commission but importantly you also own the customer relationship. You have the customer’s contact details, and from the booking onwards it’s your brand that they will communicate with, not the OTAs. The direct booking message is simple so make it clear on your website, social media, emails, brochures and do let guests know that booking direct is better for them and better for you.
The service you offer from the point of confirmation to their stay with you and beyond is all yours. With direct bookings you have no communications middleman, so take advantage of the opportunity to differentiate yourself and be “special”. Always have the best rate on your website. If you ever feel the need to make a special offer make sure it’s on your website so customers booking direct never pay more.
It can be complex in the online world, as an independent family business we try to keep things simple and in perspective for smaller businesses, there’s lots of bookings out there you just have to keep chasing them.
Knowing the secrets of success with the Online Travel Agents OTAs can boost your direct bookings. Their web coverage is so massive that any single property will find it hard to get noticed without them. In reality the chances are that any potential customer visiting your website has already checked out your listing on the OTAs, so take a moment to learn how to leverage that coverage to your advantage.
The big OTAs like Booking.com and Expedia are experts at online promotion and sales, they act a bit like a supermarket, giving customers significant choice, relevant information to help compare and an opportunity to buy simply and quickly. They have mastered the art of great online marketing, continually optimising their websites and spending billions on advertising to generate millions of bookers. Ranking high on search engines and also listing on the most popular websites like TripAdvisor make it almost certain that anyone searching for accommodation online will come across them.
The great news is that although customers visit OTAs during their search for accommodation most still choose to book direct. Take your OTA presence seriously by investing time and care to ensure it works for you. Do not be fooled into just a switching it on and letting it run, you have to drive it in the right direction.
1. Look Special: Ensure you are “attractive” on the OTA websites by having great images and plenty of them. These images must “connect” with customers on an emotional level….can they see themselves in those images? Highlight your strengths, you will be compared. By standing out you increase your chances of getting booked.
2. Know Your Targets: Understand what types of customer are finding you on the OTAs – why not ask them when you see them? Then grab the attention of those customers with the right content, your business customers may want to see free wi-fi, car parking, proximity to their destination etc. Enhance your own website to attract these customers.
3. Make Improvements: Refresh and fine tune your presence on each OTA, learning and improving all the time – nothing is static on the internet! Simplify the process of managing OTAs by using a channel manager, then spend the time you save by getting more from the connection…. put an end to tedious rate and availability updating, rather spend the time saved to add real value.
4. Drive Direct Bookings: You must have a great website, invest in fantastic images and rich content – go the extra mile. Place your online booking process at the heart of your website, it’s got to be so easy to find and book. Customers want it to be simple don’t confuse them or appear to offer less. Extract the maximum value from all customers, capture repeat business or referrals direct.
5. Returning Customers: Once a customer comes to you via an OTA make sure you get to know them, offer them a loyalty discount so they come back via a direct booking next time. Add the customer to your mailing list or social media channels and engage them directly.
6. Create your own Mini OTA: When you can’t beat them make your own. Why not join up with other properties in your area to work together. You could create a website for customers to book accommodation in your location and compete with the chains and save commission using your mini OTA.
Smaller independent properties have limitations on their time and marketing budgets so it’s critical you make the most of them. The biggest advantage owner run and managed businesses have is the direct contact with their guests, it’s not something the chain hotels and OTAs can replicate.
Freetobook is a Internet Booking Engine and channel manager with many added services and connections to the world’s biggest sales systems like TripAdvisor TripConnect, Booking.com, Expedia, HostelWorld and many others. Using freetobook can greatly improve your worldwide distribution and add bookings to your bottom line : find out more about freetobook on our home page.
To find out more about what the freetobook channel manager can do for you, click the link below.